Discussing the latest from how the United States has dealt with drones and data security, Diana Cooper comments on how the approach the DOI has taken is “wrong.”
Here’s what the senior vice president of policy & strategy at PrecisionHawk had to say:
Policies to counter China’s economic rise have emerged as one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement in Washington, and the latest target is the emerging civilian drone industry.
But in the rush to protect U.S. economic and security interests, the unintended consequence will freeze progress in one of the most promising new technologies in America: small drones.
The Department of Interior recently announced it is grounding its entire fleet of drones to address “cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns.”
Department officials admit that even though the majority of the drones they procured were made in America, they grounded their entire fleet because drones, like most modern technology, including smartphones, have some parts made in China.
This action extends an order issued late last year that upended the Department’s drone program – the most innovative and largest civilian drone program managed by a federal agency – and has sparked criticism from current and retired Interior workers who use drones to survey erosion, monitor floods, and fight wildfires.
Beyond the immediate ramifications for Interior workers, who are at greater risk because they can’t use remotely operated drones to conduct safe missions, these types of policies threaten to undercut U.S. drone innovation and businesses more broadly.
America leads the world in developing the most cutting-edge drone software, according to the most recentGlobal Drone Software Market Research Report, which enables pilots to more accurately and effectively protect wildlife, grow crops, and fight wildfires.
These software applications, and hundreds more, have been commercialized by American firms in the last few years. In this way, the drone market is similar to the smartphone market.
There is a fixed value associated with the hardware which is predominantly made in China – the drone or the cell phone – yet the significantly greater economic value lies in the American software applications that facilitate business and consumer transactions and exchanges on those devices.
As we look toward the future, it’s vital for the U.S. to develop a domestic drone manufacturing capability, and we have taken positive steps in that direction. Competition is the best way to drive technology innovation.
In June 2019, President Trump signed a memorandum determining that the domestic production capability for small unmanned aircraft systems is essential to the national defense.
That same year, the Department of Defense launched its Trusted Capital Marketplace program to connect U.S. technology startups with sources of capital. The program’s initial focus is on small drone technology.
However, building a U.S. drone industrial base will not happen overnight. And without access to a drone platform, like those from the leading drone manufacturer DJI, America will jeopardize its leadership in drone software and data analytics services.
In the meantime, the U.S. has a responsibility to take proper precautions when using foreign-made drones, especially for sensitive missions. Fortunately, the U.S. government has already made strides in promoting security in drone operations.
The Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released risk mitigation solutions for critical infrastructure companies using Chinese-made drones.
While this is a great first step, the reality is that all connected devices – whether foreign or U.S. made – have some degree of cybersecurity risk. For this reason, country-of-origin restrictions are simply inadequate, and ineffective in solving today’s security challenges.
From my experience, the best way to protect security across drone operations in the U.S. is to establish performance-based security standards that all drones must meet, whether developed domestically or overseas. Industry groups including Aerospace Industries Association and the Consumer Technology Association are already working on developing such standards.
To fortify our skies and support our industries, we need access to world-class drone technology that meets the highest universal security standards, regardless of where they are built.
Rather than enacting sweeping policies that ban drones simply on where they are made, government and private sector must work together to protect our national security interests while promoting American innovation and leadership in drone technology.